Since 1997, I have been working in the customer service industry. Twenty years of working in banking, retail, tech support, middle management, and project management have taught me a few things about the dynamics of workers and leaders in the workplace. There have been a few bright spots in my career, but overall I have witnessed a great deal of difficulty when it comes to the daily relations of humans when they are stressed and stifled. Unfortunately, the norm in business still seems to be to let workers know that their worth for the company is merely contingent on their ability to perform. The performance workers are expected to give is rarely clear and often involves pretending to be happy. After all, work performance is just that, right? A performance – an act – a character that one puts on for 8-9 hours per day. Company leaders have a difficult time keeping expectations clear and developing workers in a manner that would help everyone be happier and more productive.
It is difficult to thrive when one is working for an organization led by people that do not value the day to day contributions of individual workers. Workers have many things to contribute to a companies policies, procedures, day to day focus, and bottom line. They are not robots that can only do one task over and over again. They are individuals with varied abilities and creativeness that is rarely, if ever, tapped into. They have intellectual lives that are never stimulated. They have many ideas to contribute to the greater good of the company, but their voices are muted.
The company leaders expect each of the workers to tow the line and never complain. To be happy even when the world might be crumbling around them. To continue to pretend that things are wonderful when they are actually rubbish. And all the while, the company leaders wonder why survey results are low and morale is even lower. They assume that morale is something that comes from within the individual workers and that grumpy people will always be grumpy. But the leaders are wrong. Boosting morale has to come from above.
A little bit of empathy toward the individual that is trying to make ends meet financially and still be happy on a day to day basis can go a long way. Validating the feelings of the workforce by noticing when things are not good and trying to make real, lasting change, if even in small increments, would also be a plus. These things do not cost money, but they certainly cost time. And time, unfortunately, is in short supply when leaders are too busy counting beans to care about the humans bringing the beans to the table on a daily basis.
But complaining is not enough. The only way to make change is to suggest, to those with the power, things that could be improved and how improvements can happen. So here are a few ideas that have been bouncing around in my brain for the past fifteen or so years. Ways that leaders of any organization could and should bear in mind when thinking about improving the day to day life of their employees. In honor of labour day, here are my suggestions to make the workplace a better place for everyone:
It seems like a pretty easy concept and yet it never seems to happen. When workers tell you, as a company leader, that they are ‘drowning’ or they are ‘stressed out’ or that they ‘need more help’, listen to them. This does not mean that you need to take action, immediately, on every complaint, but you should at least show the worker that you are listening to their concerns and that you are willing to do something about the issues that are causing this level of stress in the workplace.
- Do Something
Take in the critical assessments that you receive from the people ‘on the ground’ in your organization and find solutions. Heck, ask the workers for solutions! Have a referendum and allow the workers to give you ideas of how to fix the most common issues that are popping up in the workplace. The workers know what they need to be happy on a daily basis and if you allow them to tell you what that might be and then take action to make changes, they will see that you are trying to make things better. A little bit of effort can go a long way. This does not mean that you should stop with just the effort, as I said above, do something. So what is the something that you could do today to improve the daily work lives of your workers tomorrow and for years to come?
- Value happiness
Many times, company leaders make it clear to workers (even if they do not intend to) that the happiness of the workforce is not important. That happiness is not something workers should be concerned with. That when they come to work they should work and that it is not the company’s job to make the workers happy. This – my friendly neighbourhood CEO – is NOT THE CASE. Workers are giving you 45+ hours of their week, every week. This amounts to 2,340 hours per year. Over a lifetime of working for one organization, a worker could give anywhere from 70,200 to
93,600 hours of their lives to the company. If the workers know that the company leaders value the happiness of the workforce, it makes the 45 hours per week investment of time a lot easier. Here are a few very simple things that you can do, that cost little to no money, to keep the workforce happy.
- Improve the workflow process to lower stress on individual workers
- Encourage workers when they do well
- Develop workers so they can move up if they wish to do so
- Set workers up for success
- Institute workplace health initiatives that give workers a sense of well being
- Say thank you to your workers
- Show an interest in your workers lives outside of work
- Make the workplace inviting by adding plants and sunlight wherever possible
- Get people moving – allow workers time during the day to take breaks (other than the standard lunch hour) without guilt
- Make policies equal across divisions
In the event your company has a policy that allows workers the freedom to do something such as work from a remote location or shift time to get out early or come in late, be sure that the policy is written in a manner that is fair for ALL workers in the organization. Do not single out one division within your organization to have the ability to partake in the policy while others are not able to do so. A policy that is instituted for only a portion of the worker population is bound to cause issues within the workplace. If there are reasons why some workers cannot partake in these policies, make changes so that all workers are eligible for the policy prior to releasing it to the general worker population. Releasing a policy before all workers are eligible is a sure way to create low morale in a portion of your worker population. It is better, for everyone concerned, to either have policies that every worker is eligible for or not have those policies at all. In this case, all or nothing is the best motto.
- Be sure that expectations are always clear
There is nothing worse than working for a boss that cannot clearly set expectations for the staff. Workers should be given a certain amount of latitude within their day to day functions, as you would never hire someone that is completely green to do a highly technical task, but they should also be given clear guidelines for what the position entails. If priorities shift, throughout the course of a workers time, be clear about the shifts and why they are occurring. Keep the job description for each worker updated and go over these expectations as they change. Basically, keep your workers in the loop, not in the dark, about changes to the structure and overall direction of the company and their individual contribution expectations.
- Institute an employee recognition program
There has been a lot of improvement, in the past few years, in employee recognition programs and one of the new ways to do this is peer2peer recognition. This article explains the benefits that these types of programs can and do have in the workplace. This is not your grandparents company recognition program!
There are many other ways that company leaders can improve the workplace, but I think this is a good starting point. Now, leaders, please go out and find creative ways to empower your workers and help them be the best versions of themselves. It will pay you back many times over and the humans that are toiling to put those beans on your table daily will thank you for it with even more beans. Seriously – happy workers = productive workers.
Chantale (aka hippiegrrl)